As much as it is one of the saddest scandals in our society, this headline does not refer to the increasing number of young people taking their own lives. Nor does it refer to the obscene number of young people who die each year on our roads.
Why are so many people dying in their 20s?
What I am referring to is the unacceptably high number of people who seem to die in their 20s, yet keep breathing until they are put in a box in their 50s, 60s. 70s, 80s, or even later. I call these people the undead.
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To the best of my knowledge, there is no research that quantifies the number of people afflicted with this condition, but my experience suggests it is extreme.
I meet the undead every day. I imagine you do, too.
They are relatively easy to recognise. They are the people who live to breathe, rather than breathe to live. They are the people who live to eat, rather than eating to live. They are the people who live to drink, rather than drinking to live, and they also focus more on existence and survival than experience and self-actualisation.
Certainly, some of the victims of this disease do so because they are stuck at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, addressing basic physiological requirements just to survive. Such people are truly victims of the system rather than a disease.
The people with the disease have risen up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, perhaps even to the point of self-actualisation, but for whatever reason have not capitalised on their good fortune – and good fortune it is, given that less than 10 percent of humans rise above focusing on physiological needs.
You must have seen them. The symptoms are apparent and common. They include working in a job they don’t care about, or worse still, hate; wearing what everyone else wears because it is safer; not saying too much or speaking up because they don't not want to stand out; and eating in the same restaurants or going to the same holiday destinations (including Bali) over and over again.
Other symptoms of being undead include living in a four-bedroom, two-bathroom suburban house designed to impress the Jones's; an unimaginative, style-free everyday Australian or Japanese car, which costs as much as an attractive second-hand European car; a high mortgage and an ambition to be able to afford an even higher one, so they can impress their friends; a swimming pool that is a pain in the ass to clean.
These are people who get married and have three children, not because they have a passion for it, but because it is expected of them; the men spend Friday evenings with the boys while the wife sits at home with the kids on a Friday night, not really knowing why; Saturday mornings are spent shopping, Saturday afternoons involve school sports, Sunday mornings are for church or a sleep in, followed by a family Sunday lunch and an afternoon in the garden or pool.
Voting the way their parents did because it saves thinking; watching the Channel 7 news each night or listening to commercial radio and believing what is said because they are lazy; believing that going to church each Sunday will make the next life better than this one, instead of putting sufficient energy into the life they have. These are common symptoms of being undead.
The worst symptoms of all are refusing to think for themselves, and a complete absence of the moral courage needed to gather the facts and make decisions based on those facts, rather than making emotional responses.
These are just some of the symptoms of this disease that I call ‘mediocrity’, which causes people to die in their 20s, but keep on breathing until they are much older.
This cause of death is so common that when you meet someone who has not been affected by it, they stand out. Because they stand out, they are often mocked, described as weird, labelled an academic or greenie, and generally spurned with remarks such as ‘it is alright for you’.
Instead of celebrating free-thinking, Socratic thinking, the application of objective thinking, critical and lateral thinking, and the moral courage to act on it, the undead spurn them.
Of course, they have a perfect right to be undead, but it is a waste and it costs the whole community a great deal.